The Herd fawns over their new set of wheels from which they’ll conquer the sprawling hellscape. The small, motorcycle Devil’s Ride fits snugly in the Scavenger, saving them from spending precious soul coins since the price of soul coins is just getting ludicrous at this time, and the ongoing war isn’t helping out either
They can’t wait to drive them and continue their mission!
But they do wait, because there is still a lot to do.
Side quests, right?
Mad Maggie’s raven imps, Pins and Needles, give instructions on how to handle the vehicle and the weapons. Like infernal driving instructors, they guide the Herd around the test track, showing them how to load the harpoons, check the engine for proper amounts of hell juice, and how to replace a deflated death-tire. They attempt to teach parallel parking, but some things are meant to be mysteries forever. The kenku smiths guide Sfiros and Harken to the forges where they can silver their mace and rapier, providing better offense against the demons, devils, or wereboars in the future.
Wereboars? Why would those be mentioned.
Mad Maggie the Hag Haggie hands Not-so-Pious Caeus a not-so intact stack of common trading cards, each containing pictures, stats, and information about the warlords who ride around Avernus. None of them are worth anything at auction, and upon closer inspection, Caeus can tell they’re cheap third party knockoffs. Maggie also stocks the Scavenger with weeks of rations and three soul coins.
Tallest is feeling less like mission-work and more like side-quest-work, and he finds a random Madcap and says, “Hey, little thing, what is your name?”
“Grubba,” the Madcap says while frantically hiding something.
“Come with us,” Tallest says.
“Where are we going?” he asks.
“On an adventure,” Tallest says. “We need another minion for our crew. We lost our last one when we jumped off the city in the sky.”
“We do exclusively badass shit,” Caeus adds.
“You’re buying me?” Grubba asks.
“No, we’re freeing you,” Tallest says.
“Freeing you into servitude,” Sleipnir clarifies.
“I don’t have a cost?” Grubba moans. “I’m being given away?”
“Would it bring you greater joy to know you were sold?” Sfiros asks. “What are your values?”
“Yeah, we can make you a slave if you want,” Caeus nods.
“We can do a little slavery,” Tallest agrees, not a huge fan of creating beasts of burden but willing to make adjustments where needed.
Grubba locks eyes with Sfiros and says, “Are you a god cow?”
“I am a god cow, yes,” Sfiros says.
Somewhere in the heavens, Gond becomes angry.
“A divine bovine?” Grubba asks.
“Accurate,” Sfiros nods.
“In the feywild, where I’m from, we’ve heard there are magical farm animals,” Grubba says. “They say to follow the cow in case it jumps over the moon. Have you been over the moon?”
“Not yet!” Sfiros beams. “We don’t know where our adventures are going to take us, so you better come along.”
“What sort of god will I have to worship to follow you?” Grubba asks.
“Are you familiar with Gond?” Sfiros asks. “You already build cool stuff, right? You have a forge, you build cool things?”
Somewhere in the heavens, Gond becomes happy.
“I do occasionally drill things together and say it’s finished,” the Madcap says.
“Come with me, we’re going to build the most amazing things together,” Sfiros says.
“What kind of things?” Grubba asks.
“I don’t even know yet!” Sfiros says.
“He doesn’t even know!” Grubba exclaims to himself. “His mind is so big he doesn’t even know!”
The Madcap scurries around excitedly.
“I need to get my stuff!” he says. “I don’t have any stuff.” He gets his stuff. “I’m ready!”
“Good. We got one… Grubba,” Tallest summarizes.
“I’m a Madcap!” Grubba announces. “I have to soak my cap in demon ichor every day or it gets real weird. Another side effect is that sometimes I have irrational hatred.”
Somewhere in the heavens, Gond becomes very angry.
“What are some of the irrational hatreds you’ve had?” Caeus asks.
“Oh, lots of stuff,” Grubba says. “Curly hair, whistling, the word ‘cool,’ the color blue. It’s weird.”
“Do you currently have any irrational hatreds?” Sfiros asks.
“Oh, yes, of course. Always. I’m a Madcap,” Grubba says proudly.
“What’s on your list right now?” Sfiros asks.
“Paladins,” Grubba states.
“We don’t have any paladins, so that’s fine,” Caeus shrugs, happy that Elisin is safely-but-probably-not-safely tucked away in Kinchasa.
“Grubba, you are now a moonion of the Herd,” Sfiros says.
The Herd loads into the Scavenger with Caeus at the helm. Sleipnir takes his place in the seat controlling the crane, and Tallest and Harken man the harpoons. Sfiros supervises the NPCs: Grubba in engineering and Lulu in navigation. The Devil’s Ride sits ready to ride in the backseat of the Scavenger.
They vote on which soul coin to use as fuel, and Tallest decides that they agree on using Goblin Behnie from the beginning of the campaign. They know he is evil; the other coins are potentially innocent.
Sfiros reluctantly hands Behnie’s soul coin to the Tallest.
Somewhere in the heavens, Gond adds several notes and appendices to Sfiros’ case file.
Without hesitation, Tallest shoves the coin in the Scavenger’s slot. As the engine roars to life, the souls trapped in the furnace wail in agony, and a familiar goblin voice joins the chorus.
Sfiros creates a mask for the screams, siphoning the wails through a contraption to sound like a brazen bull.
As they leave Fort Knucklebone, they hear shouting from the gatehouse.
“If you see Smiler the Defiler, tell her I said ‘hello!’” Mad Maggie shouts at the moving vehicle.
“Do you have her trading card?” Caeus shouts back.
“Yes, but it’s in my good collection,” Mad Maggie replies, holding up her alpha and beta edition cards.
The Herd then decides to adopt a new moniker out in the hellscape, one to help them stand out with all of the other roaming gangs. Taking a hint from Sfiros’ alteration to the Scavenger, they adopt the name Brazen Bulls!
The Brazen Bulls roll out, following Lulu's guidance to Haruman’s Hill, the next destination in their journey to find Zariel’s sword. An acrid mix of dirt, clay, and bone billows in the air around their wheels, and Fort Knucklebone shrinks in the distance. All around, the mountains, valleys, and noxious realmscape of Avernus looms over them, but they throttle forward, Goblin Behnie’s screams shuffling them forward.
After a few hours of uneventful traveling, an event!
Hot on their trail, a Demongrinder emblazoned with the brands of the wereboar Raggadragga and his misfit band of werefolk barrels up behind them. The wrecking ball on the backside of his Demongrinder sways back and forth, one swipe of it able to wreck an infernal war machine with ease! Caeus has several copies of Raggadragga’s trading card. (It’s ultracommon.)
“We’ve got company!” Caeus says.
A wererat skitters to the harpoon station of the Demongrinder and fires a harpoon at the Brazen Bulls’ Scavenger, but Caeus swerves out of the way.
Harken puts two fingers to his forehead, charges a crackle of light, and points at the Demongrinder. He casts special beam cannon, sending a lightning bolt from each finger. One bolt fires straight, the second coils around it. He has to tuck away his piccolo-shaped pipes of the sewers to get a good shot.
The lightning permeates through the Demongrinder, zapping the gang of werefolk and locking up the steering contraption.
“Argh! Argadraggargh!” Raggadragga screams in frustration, unable to steer his machine.
“Eh, mates, they can’t turn!” Harken says. “We got ‘em! I think…”
Harken’s bardic words fill Sleipnir with inspiration. The sorcerer blows on a whistle that no one can hear. A cloud of smoke appears in the Demongrinder, and a bright, white puppy pops out next to Raggadragga.
“Sophie!” Sleipnir names the hound of ill omen. “She’s a good puppy. Bite!”
Sophie nips at Raggadragga’s ankle, tripping the wereboar off the helm and causing a mess of confusion in the pilot’s seat of the enemy war machine.
“What the fuck’s going on?!” Raggadragga shouts raggadraggishly.
While the werefolk gangsters pile on the shadow hound, Caeus zooms the Scavenger forward. He gets too far away from the Demongrinder, too far for their ranged spells to do any damage, and then slams on brakes.
The Demongrinder catches up to the parked Scavenger, but Sophie is wreaking havoc on the weregangsters. Harken sends another special beam cannon lightning bolt, causing the helm to fill with dark smoke.
Sfiros casts his hand of Gond to shove a wererat.
“No!” Sfiros shouts, surprised to see instead a demonic hand laughing into existence.
The hand pushes the wererat off the Demongrinder and disappears. Harmed but alive, the wererat scrambles back onto the vehicle.
Somewhere in the heavens, Gond is just batshit baffled at this point. He doesn’t remember his hand looking like that. He plans on writing a strongly-worded letter to the cosmos for this bullshittery.
“No,” Tallest says, eyeing the chaos on the deck of Raggadragga’s Demongrinder. “Misty step.”
The Blade of Ahn-Nunurta crackles with psychotic glee, and its chaotic energy envelops the massive fighter, teleporting him forward and onto the deck of the Demongrinder with Sophie and the werefolk. Tallest stabs the nearest wererat and shoves its corpse off the vehicle again, where it lands in a slump. The Blade of Ahn-Nunurta howls with laughter.
Harken summons shadowspawn aboard the enemy vehicle. A furious demon joins Tallest and Sophie at eviscerating the werefolk gangsters.
Sleipnir sends an infestation of fleas to bother the werefolk, forcing them to move out of their battle stations and into Sophie’s jaws.
“Good girl, Sophie,” Tallest says as he takes a brief moment from the battle to pet the puppy. Sophie enjoys being a good girl, yes she does! Yes she does!
While he’s distracted, a wereboar swings the massive wrecking ball on the back of the Demongrinder. It collides with the Scavenger, smashing it almost to smithereens as a jet of black smoke billows up from within. One more hit from it, and the Scavenger will be done for!
Tallest rushes the wereboar, stabbing it through the heart.
Sfiros leaps off the Scavenger and casts guardian spirit cows. Spectral cows circle around the cleric and ram into a wereboar, knocking it into the Demongrinder’s demon grinder. The wereboar and all of its potential loot are shredded in the vehicle’s maw, then spewed out of the exhaust pipes in a shower of blood and gore.
Caeus turns around from the helm and blows the smoke out of his line of sight. He targets Raggadragga’s heart and zaps him into a heart attack, slaying the warlord and causing the Demongrinder to demongrind to a demon halt.
“Dibs on his hammer!” Sfiros says and picks up the gangster’s badass weapon that he’s been carrying this whole time but never mentioned previously. He also identifies a circlet of blasting Raggadragga was wearing, and he gives it to Tallest since Tallest likes looking purdy and sparkly.
“Lulu and Grubba, you have to help in the fight,” Caeus admonishes the NPCs. “Grubba, you didn’t know the rules. That’s on us.”
“I’ve been stuck here the whole time,” Grubba whines, struggling with his straps.
“Fix these vehicles,” Sleipnir says.
“The name of this vehicle is Legitimate Salvage,” Sfiros says atop the Demongrinder, hastily scrawling some letters on the side of the machine.
“You’ll want to hook the claw from the Scavenger to the front of the Demongrinder so we can haul it around a little bit,” Grubba suggests.
With Grubba’s help, the Brazen Bulls attend to both vehicles. They’re both battered, and it will take a long time to salvage parts from one to fix the other, but they hook the claw from their Scavenger to Legitimate Salvage, and continue on their way.
After about twelve hours of traveling, Sfiros hears a voice coming from the map of Avernus:
“I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map,” the map starts to sing. “Behold! Zariel’s dog crucified those who betrayed his mistress in battle.” The sound echoes away as they approach Haruman’s Hill.
Wrought-iron trees line a trail leading to a summit of a steep hill. Anguished knights are impaled in the trees’ metal branches. Their bodies writhe in torment as bloated stirges feast on their blood. The macabre scene resembles a hellish orchard, where metal trees grow impaled corpses on their branches.
“Those are Hellriders,” Lulu says.
“They were Hellriders,” Caeus corrects her.
“Some of them are still wriggling like they might be Hellriders,” Sfiros points out.
“We should kill them,” Sleipnir suggests.
“Shouldn’t we try to save them?” Sfiros asks.
They leave Grubba in the Scavenger so he doesn’t go all Madcap on the impaled Hellriders, potential paladins.
They take down a Hellrider from the spiked iron trees, and he smiles before crumbling to ash.
“That’s what he wanted us to do to him,” Tallest decides before somewhere in the heavens, Gond starts casting judgment. “Anyone want any of this dust?”
“Nah,” the Brazen Bulls moo, not really wanting to play with paladin dust.
Tallest wipes off the dust, and everyone joins him in rescuing the doomed Hellriders.
After a while, the Brazen Bulls notice the stirges are moving back and forth from a particular spot. Like bees collecting pollen, the sturges are collecting blood and pooling it to a central location.
There, they find a pale-faced fellow with pointed fangs who is impaled just like the others. The bloated stirges buzz around him, sticking him with their proboscides and unloading their stolen blood into the man.
“Who are you?” the fellow manages to ask.
“I am Sfiros of Gond,” Sfiros says. “This is the Herd.”
“Er, that’s not what we’re called down here,” Sleipnir says.
“Oh yeah, the Brazen Bulls,” Sfiros corrects himself. “We are here to restore Kinchasa to its rightful place.”
“I followed Zariel down here,” the man moans, “in an attempt to redeem myself. My name is Jander Sunstar. I am a vampire.”
“Are you a Hellrider vampire?” Sfiros asks.
“Yes. I joined Zariel and her crusade into the Nine Hells. Haruman and I were both warriors for her. After charging through the portal, I panicked. I failed her,” Sunstar sighs.
“How did you fail her?” Sfiros asks.
“I retreated back with these comrades,” he admits, gesturing to the other impaled knights. “We sealed the portal on the way out…”
“I’m pretty sure Zariel is evil now, so you may not have done the worst thing,” Sfiros says.
Sunstar nods. “I know what happened to her. I know my hand in it. Those of us that went back to Kinchasa… we told no one. This betrayal was a shame we took to the grave, but we did not know that the grave would not save us.”
“How did you come to be punished here?” Sfiros asks.
“As penance, I built a citadel under Kinchasa. Sunless, I could wallow in my shame,” Sunstar admits. “I then knew that I had no choice. One day I chose to face the sun and throw myself on the mercy of the gods. And thus, I woke here. Haruman, who we abandoned, imprisoned us here. He has fallen in with Zariel. This is his ward to guard, and he will return.”
“I recognize him,” Lulu admits, staring at Sunstar. “What he did was wrong. So wrong. But saving him is the right thing to do.”
Tallest takes Jander Sunstar, vampire Hellrider, off the iron tree.
A smile crosses the vampire’s face as lasting peace washes over him. A moment before he crumbles, the vampiric curse evaporates.
The other victims also whisk away in the wind, causing the stirges to bristle in agitation and anger.
The stirges’ swarming rage is eclipsed by a flaming shadow, cast from a fiery horse and a Hellish knight.
Haruman, the warden of the hill, has seen the Brazen Bulls releasing his prisoners.